Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Olympic Extravaganza

The extravaganza has officially jumped the shark.

My wife sat through the opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics on Friday night. I watched about half of it. About all I could take was a couple of minutes before I went to check email, the refrigerator, or to see if Jodie, my long time house ghost was OK.

How low we’ve sunk. This extravaganza thing has been growing like the 2006 bubbled up housing market for the last few years and it’s finally popped. I’m so tired of contrived choreography and costumes whose continuing attempts to be shocking are only satires of themselves.

My wife wanted to watch the athletes march around the field. She’s from Denmark and wanted to see the Danish team, for one thing. I remember when I was a kid, totally enraptured by the Olympic Games, watching the athletes enter the stadium. Somehow they showed both humility and pride at the same time. These people have worked incredibly hard to get to these games.

For many of them, this is the absolute pinnacle of achievement in their sports as there’s not much potential to compete professionally in canoe sprinting (as far as I know). This event is about those athletes and about nations coming together and putting aside the politics and competing peacefully.

We were watching a rerun, essentially, as London is eight hours ahead of us. In order to make it work for TV, including maximizing the audience and making the fireworks and light shows work, the actual event took place from about 9pm to 1am, London time. The extravaganza came first, of course, leaving the athletes entrance march until after 11pm. Many of the athletes didn’t want to stay up so late because they had competitions early the next morning. The result was that we saw some fraction of each team in the parade.

This robbed both the athletes and their fans of a big moment. In fact, many of the fans in the stadium got up and left before the event was over. All this for one of the most boring, self-indulgent shows I’ve ever seen. People in silly costumes just danced around and waved their arms endlessly. They were telling the story of the evolution of England – apparently in real-time. It had nothing to do with sports or the Olympics themselves.

But this has become the norm. Everywhere I look, these days, there’s another extravaganza. So many that it’s just plain boring. The English spent $85 million on this turkey – money that could have gone a long way toward alleviating the “worst quality of life in Europe,” as has been said of England.

I say the day of the extravaganza is seeing its sunset. The level of hype for events can’t really get any higher. The hype is so extreme that it’s lost its meaning. You’d think that drinking a can of cola or light beer is going to bring about the world’s biggest party and the Rolling Stones are going to play there. Words like “amazing” have no meaning whatsoever, anymore, because EVERYTHING and EVERYONE is amazing. I’ve heard that word at least five hundred times in the past year.

I’m tired of hype. I’m tired of commercial exaggeration. I’m tired of the extravaganza. I know when something’s great. I know when I’m anticipating something. I don’t need to be told how to feel. Can we move on? I’m ready for the next thing.

By the way, I’ve drunk thousands (maybe millions?) of beers in my life and half of them were actually really good (some people are wine snobs, I’m a beer snob. Sue me). But I’m still waiting on Mick Jagger. Maybe I still haven’t drunk the right brand.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.


Back to Gun Control … Inevitably

I waited to post this one out of respect for the victims though I wrote it over that terrible weekend. My thoughts go out to those who lost loved ones in the theatre shooting in Colorado. I cannot imagine what you are experiencing and I won’t pretend to.

I also feel kind of foolish and guilty, and I am sure that I am not the only one. When do we take on the issue of gun control? After a tragedy. After innocent people doing something that we all do regularly and are horrifically struck down. But once the victims are buried and their survivors have vented, we move on.

Until the next time…

Last time I broached the topic of gun control, I was told by several people that it is fundamentally an American issue and that, try as I do to be as American, it is impossible for an ‘outsider’ to understand how deeply this cuts into Uncle Sam’s psyche.

America is the land of the free. We all agree on this, right? We all want a government that takes care of big issues such as law and order, and defense of the realm. We simply don’t agree where to draw the line and who foots the bill.

Having the right to bear arms is for many the symbol of freedom. For me, the issue is not so clear-cut. I have sympathy with the woman who shot a man who was breaking down her front door and clearly threatening to rape her and kill her baby. So did the 911-dispatcher when she realized no one was going to get to the woman’s aid in time. I imagine that anyone who heard the tapes of the phone call understand this scenario.

To have the ability to defend herself, this woman needed to be able to legally able to buy a gun and ammunition. If this is the mission of the NRA and its supporters, it sounds reasonable.

But this is a long way away from the ability to purchase, in full view of traceable data, stacks of guns, ammunition, and explosives. There is a line that must be drawn not just between who has the right to purchase a gun and who doesn’t, but what they are allowed to possess. It should only be enough to defend yourself and your family against an assailant.

There is a colleague in my writers group who has written a post-apocalyptical novel based in the Bay Area. I am not familiar with the genre, but the story has stuck with me. This is in part because the story is taking place in my backyard, but it is also that my friend has researched his weapons and doesn’t spare us the graphics.

As he lists the various stockpiles that the good and bad guys amass, I realize that this is based upon the premise that there are enough people out there (in our backyards) who are amassing arsenals of weapons.

Would putting limits on how many weapons a person can have really impinge upon our freedom? Would America no longer be free if the bad guys packed less weaponry than our own police?

And what kind of freedom do we really have when we are too scared to go to the movies…and watch a superhero battle crime?


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).


Turn Write At The Next Junction

Family vacations are always special for my little clan. Once a year, we pack up our considerable collection of camping gear and head to the mountains, lakes and redwoods. Without Internet and electricity, we have no choice but to hike, fish, and enjoy beautiful Northern California and Oregon, and each other. This year there were two highlights. We all followed my eldest’s passion for archery and it has hopefully become a family hobby.

Two years ago. I wrote the first Wycaan Master book together with my eldest son. I have blogged about this previously. Last year, I wrote the second book before we went away and each night, we sat around the campfire or snuggled in my tent as I read to them a few chapters at a time.

This year, we followed suit, reading the third book of the series. Everyday I waited with anticipation to read and treasured their responses. As the books have become more intricate, my youngest (now 9 years old) sometimes had a hard time following and peppered me with questions, often later that night when he was supposed to sleep, or the next day in the middle of another activity.

Now I know that family are not supposed to be considered as impartial critics. In truth, they had a lot of constructive criticism and suggestions, most of which I adopted. But I cannot imagine enjoying the level of engagement that they experienced and expressed from anyone else.

Back in the Bay Area and it is time to make major decisions. There is time as I outsource the books for some professional editing, but I am considering alternative options to publish the series.

A fascinating conversation with a representative at a publishing house with a long history of epic fantasy titles has left me wondering how long to walk the traditional path. She told me that they spent considerable time discussing the option of signing me even though they had previously made a business decision to stop publishing in this genre. It just doesn’t make business sense in the current economic climate, she told me. It has nothing to do with the quality of your work.

I feel a degree of frustration as I have been watching other fantasy authors and their respectable and consistent ranking on Amazon.com. Daniel Arenson, who is the author of the Requiem series and others, announced the following at the end of June:

“100,000 books sold. Bloody hell. You bought 100,000 of these silly books about dragons, swords, and spells. You’re nuts. But THANK YOU, readers. It’s been a crazy ride.”

I have no doubt that Mr. Arenson worked extremely hard to get to this significant landmark. He wrote great books and went out and did it by himself.

I congratulate him…and wonder.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Gun Control: Kill the Handgun – Roger Ingalls

In the wake of the shooting deaths in Aurora, Colorado, the roar to ban assault rifles can be heard all over the country. The President made a soft but responsible comment on the issue while Senator Feinstein was more direct.

Obama at the National Urban League: “I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms, I think we recognize the traditions of gun ownership that passed on from generation to generation. That hunting and shooting are part of a cherished national heritage but I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals. That they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities. I believe the majority of gun owners would agree we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons, and we should check someone’s criminal record before they can check out a gun seller.”

Senator Feinstein: “Weapons of war don’t belong on the streets. This is a powerful weapon, it had a 100-round drum; this is a man who planned, who went in, and his purpose was to kill as many people as he could in a sold-out theater. We’ve got to really sit down and come to grips with what is sold to the average citizen in America. I have no problem with people being licensed to buy a firearm, but these are weapons that are only going to be used to kill a lot of people in close combat.”

I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment – commonly referred to as “the right to bear arms”. The Second Amendment text: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The amendment was provided for the purpose of deterring tyrannical government, repelling invasion, suppressing insurrection, facilitating a natural right of self-defense and enabling the people to organize a militia system.

If assault rifles are banned we’ll be left with hunting guns and handguns and we would then be out of compliance with the intent of the Second Amendment.

Guns kill approximately 30,000 people in the United States, per year, and less than 0.5% of those killed die from assault rifles. The political and media assault on assault rifles is way off target.

As defined in The Bill of Rights and in the context of the time in which it was written, I do not believe the Second Amendment guarantees the public the right to own or bear hand guns. Hand guns DO NOT satisfy the intended purpose of the amendment.  You cannot deter a tyrannical government or organize a militia with hand guns. I DO believe the public has the right to bear rifles, assault weapons and any equipment used by the military and government. This may be controversial but it is the true intent of the amendment.

Assault weapons make big headline when used for murder but they kill a fraction of the people relative to other weapons. Hand guns are designed for convenient and surprise killing at close proximity which is completely incompatible with the Second Amendment.

If politicians and mainstream media want to focus on a real problem without violating the Constitution, they should kill the handgun.

Following on from Monday’s post, I would like to share this thoughtful post from The Soulful Veteran.

The Soulful Veteran's Blog

An e-mail arrived this morning from the “Marine Corps Vietnam Tankers Historical Foundation”. I signed up for this news feed because I served in the First Tank Battalion, First Marine Division in Okinawa and then Vietnam in 1965-1966.

The title of the e-mail speaks volumes about America’s political priorities when measured between health of the environment and the individual and corporate profits.

The title of the e-mail was “Dow & Monsanto Join Forces to Poison America’s Heartland”.  Source: Truth Out.org by Richard Schiffman

About Monsanto Company—it is the world’s largest provider of patented genetically modified seeds for crops such as corn, soybeans, and cotton, bringing in $10.5 billion this past year.

In fact, anything that makes food more expensive benefits Monsanto, which is why this corporation encourages the use of genetically engineered crops.

Schiffman says, “In a match that some would say was made in hell, the nation’s two leading…

View original post 367 more words

The Top Talent???? – Tom Rossi

I’ve heard the same baloney many times: “We need to offer ‘competitive’ salaries to executives in order to attract ‘top talent.'” This reasoning was offered up recently, not by some corporation lining the pockets of executives while workers lose their homes, but by the California State University system, which doled out significant raises to the incoming presidents of three campuses before they even spent one day on the job.

 This was simultaneous to raising tuition and cutting class availability for students. The “best talent”. Riiiiiiight. Let’s look at what the “best talent” has done. They’ve driven companies into the ground, killed manufacturing where it might have survived the outsourcing onslaught, lost many billions in investor funds, cheated on taxes (both corporate and personal), lobbied (both legally and illegally) to get their cheating legalized, and when it was finally suggested that it might be best to move on, they took huge “golden parachute” packages with them, even as the corporations they had headed burned to the ground.


University presidents and the organizing bodies above them have raised tuition by stunning amounts while eliminating many basic education options and, in many ways, “dumbing down” the education offered by their schools. Faced with tough realities like budget cuts from the state, they never miss an opportunity to pass the pain straight to the students while protecting their own salaries and benefits.

 That’s what the “top talent” has brought. What the hell would “medium talent” bring????


Here’s the problem. The world of executives has jettisoned the world of ordinary people. It’s now its own planet with its own logic, its own motivations, its own criteria for success, and its own, self-determined reward system.

 Back here on Earth, I have known SO many people who were SO much better than this in SO many ways. These people are not driven by “success” or money. They are driven by a passion for their work and for accomplishing something real in this world.

 These people, almost by definition, aren’t motivated by money. Yes, of course they need and want money in order to survive or maybe even live comfortable lives, but they wouldn’t “sell their souls” for more money. If the salaries the top executive positions were severely cut and limited, what kind of people would be attracted to these positions?

 People who CARED ABOUT THEM! I have several educators in my family. They are all highly intelligent. Do you think they took on those careers for the money? Especially decades ago? Not a chance. They did this because they had something to give, and when you have something to give and you can’t give it, it hurts you inside.

 We need the promises of marketing departments to actually come true. We need executives who are passionate about doing something good for our world, or even for some product line, but not just for enriching themselves monetarily.

 -Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.



Agent Orange – Not Going Away?

During the Vietnam War (1961 – 1971) the US military launched a program called Operation Ranch Hand in which chemicals (herbicides and defoliants) which the Vietnamese  government estimates killed or maimed  400,000 people. In the ensuing years they claim that half a million children were born with birth defects.[1]

It was later discovered that Agent Orange (a 50:50 mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, if that makes any sense to you) contained an extremely toxic compound (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin). During Operation Ranch Handthe US military sprayed nearly 20 million US gallons (80 million liters)  mixed with jet fuel over Vietnam, Eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia. The goal of the program was to destroy the dense forests where the guerrillas took cover. In addition, they sought to destroy the resources needed by the indigenous population which would force them to live in the U.S. dominated cities. The idea here was to deprive the guerrillas of their rural support base and food supply.

All this is a history lesson, right? Wrong. History has a habit of not disappearing into books.


And a CBS report:



Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Join The Party

Left Coast Voices celebrates its third birthday this month. We are approaching 700 posts, have been viewed nearly 36,000 times, have over a hundred loyal followers, and have generally had a good time, offering our opinions without annoying too many people along the way.

What I enjoy about Left Coast Voices is that we attract people with a variety of views who can articulate their opinions. You can be a liberal but here that doesn’t mean you have to support everything about our president. Just because you are excited by the potential of the Occupy movement, doesn’t mean you agree with every action.

Our readers think. Our writers think. 

I want to take the opportunity to thank Roger Ingalls and Tom Rossi, who have become regular partners, tying up the Tuesday and Thursday slots. My only regret is that we have not hung out more often at Jupiters – micro-brewed beer, serious pizza, and great conversation. Norman Weekes has joined us on a less regular basis, but we are grateful for his contributions. You are always welcome, Norm.

I believe the diversity of writers is what makes our little community special. You never quite know what article or topic you are going to get and who is going to agree/disagree with whom.

I feel ready to offer up a slot to a fourth person. The criteria are that you write weekly (each contributor gets a consistent day: Tom – Tuesday, Roger – Thursday) and observe the three NOs – no racism, sexism, or homophobic comments. If you wish to write on a specific theme – gender, local grassroots, food justice, environmental, occupy etc., that would be great. If you prefer to choose a different topic each week, that works too.

I will teach you the mechanical aspect of blogging on WordPress and you will find a supportive team behind you. Along with the collaborative nature, there are other advantages. Left Coast Voices has its platform and following. We feed off each others followers  – you are not blogging for your mom and best friend (though they are both very important!). If you have a book or cause to promote in your signature, you are welcome to do so.

If you are interested, let me know in the comments below. If you have something to say, we can help you say it.

Have a great weekend, everyone.



Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).




2012: A Year to Remember – Roger Ingalls

Global warming, who cares. We’re only talking about a few degrees so what’s the big deal? The availability of food is the big deal.

Starch based foods, such as; corn, rice and wheat are members of the grass family and the life blood for most people on Earth. Not only do we eat starch-plants but our livestock is primarily fed corn and similar grassy vegetation. In addition, close to 70% of all items found on grocery stores shelves in developed countries have some type of corn byproduct in them (an unintended consequence of subsidized farming). The world depends on starchy grasses so we must have large land masses in climate zones suitable for growing these plants.

Global warming of a few degrees may not seem like much but when compared to temperature ranges required to grow our food, the small change isn’t so little.

For the purposes of this short article we’ll talk about corn. The ideal temperature range for growing corn is 68F to 73F degrees and having an abundant amount of weather in this range is needed to keep food prices affordable and available. The ideal growing range is only 5F degrees (73 – 68 = 5) so a climate shift of 2 or 3 degrees will consume 50% of corn’s growing range budget and that is significant. The average growing season temperature for America’s bread basket region (Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois…) is about 72F degrees so an upward shift of just a few degrees takes us out of the ideal condition. This is bad news for high yields.

Global warming also has another, more damaging, side effect; prolonged extreme temperature variation. This is what we are now experiencing in the Midwest and it’s having a devastating impact on crops. In past years, it was normal to have a handful of super-hot days but climate change is producing consecutive weeks of scorching heat. More bad news for crop yields. Corn can survive in a range of 50F to 95F degrees for a period of time but will not yield well above 80F or below 60F. Corn can even tolerate extreme temperatures (32F to 110F degrees) but only for a few days. When we have weeks of heat over 100F degrees, as we have seen this year, crops fail.

2012 may become a year to remember. It will be a year of climate records in both high temperatures and protracted heat days. It will be a year of failed crops.

A few degrees does make a difference.

Shaft Strikes Again – Norman Weekes

There are things we whisper to each other when white folk are not around.

Yes it’s true. When two or more Black folk stand by the water cooler we talk in-house. Most of it need not be shared. ‘They’ wouldn’t understand. It would take hours, maybe years of context to not be misunderstood. But at the risk of having my “Black Enough” card revoked, I’m going to share one of these secret communiques. For about two years now, ever since Obama started getting his ass kicked on every meaningful issue of concern to the Black community I’ve heard this or something like this:

After checking the room, looking over both shoulders one of my beloved – brothers or sisters will lean in and say  “Just wait until the second term. Then we’ll see the real Obama!”

The hope is that unencumbered by re-election politics he’ll transform from Urkel to John Shaft. Maybe even Dolemite. Something other than what he’s already proven to be. The guy we wanted. Not the guy he is – Benson. I can hear the First Lady screaming “Benson! Oh no you didn’t!” Obama’s recent open mic gaff to Russian President Medvedev gave hope to the fantasy. Never mind he was referring to foreign policy and stating the obvious.

I understand the desire to believe that the conformity, reserve and caution is just an act until he’s free to be the real Obama. After all, we’ve done this everyday for hundreds of years. It’s a coping mechanism that has served us well in a persevering kind of way. At the same time we desperately want to believe Obama’s just waiting for the opportunity to “stick it to The Man” even if he is “The Man”.


This theory ignores a cardinal rule of being Black in America. If you get in don’t f-it up for the next brother. The next Black president is alive today. Obama knows this. He may hope the next Black president is living in the White House today. If he is a Super Negro waiting to emerge, checks and balances will temper Obama’s second term. The Republican House and/or Senate along with conservative Supreme court justices who obviously sold their souls for eternal life will keep him in “check”. Wonder if Satan tried to return those souls after a quality check. Caveat emptor Beelzebub.

Second term Presidents rarely get wild and crazy in their second term. Nixon and Clinton were impeached and I’ve had the entire Bush 43 presidency erased from my memory. I don’t think his second term was very memorable but you can look it up.

In the final analysis the Obama we have is way better than any alternative. You know it, I know it, and the American people know it. As William DeVaughn reminds us: Be Thankful for What You Got.


Norman Weekes is a volunteer in social justice non profits and occasional political activist. 


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